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UPCOMING EVENTS

Jason Benetti Wants New Perspectives In The Booth

People claim that baseball is boring – that there’s no fun in the game and it’s tough to watch. Well, the folks at NBC Sports Chicago dare you to say that now after several “guest analysts” joined Jason Benetti in the White Sox TV booth for a recent series in Anaheim. Steve Stone was off for the series so the network and its play-by-play man put their collective heads together to come up with some outside the box ideas.

It started with a game in Maui. Benetti and Basketball Hall of Famer, Bill Walton were paired together for the Maui Invitational around Christmas time. A few weeks later Benetti thought how cool it would be to have Walton join him on a baseball broadcast and extended an invitation. It was accepted and the rest was history.

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Walton, television producer Michael Schur and Saturday Night Live’s Mike O’Brien were tabbed to fill the analyst role during the three game series against the Angels. I recently sat down with Benetti to get his thoughts on the experience and some behind the scenes stories from the broadcasts. 

ANDY MASUR: What are your thoughts after the Bill Walton experience?

JASON BENETTI: It was like if the animals could talk. (laughs) I love Bill dearly.

What it was like is everything that you saw, but it was also just the understanding this guy wants to do a great job every night.  He was locked in energy wise for three hours. He had loads of stuff he wanted to talk about and loads of things he didn’t know he wanted to talk about and he did both and we did. And by the way what you didn’t see a whole lot of on the air was, he gave a rousing speech to the Sox pregame.

He was in the clubhouse at 4:40 and he gave about a 15-20-minute speech to the Sox that the coaches were still talking about the next day, without prompting. He was that good and that motivating and that interesting. His story, all of the injuries and sadness, and the mental darkness that comes with it and his ability to thrust himself out of that by seeking joy is something we all could use some of. I know he is blindingly crazy sometimes to the naked eye and to the well-trained Bill Walton eye, both.

He is also a wonderful soul, and I’m glad to be around him whenever I get the chance to, but on the air (pauses) buckle up! 

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AM: Did the broadcast put any extra pressure on you? Some were tuned in for the experience and yet some still were interested in the game. Can’t please everyone I guess, right? 

JB: No. People are going to hate stuff. I don’t even like talking about them because if they don’t understand Bill Walton, they kind of just…they don’t really care. They’re never going to care. They’re never going to have joy out of him. They’ll get their joy from somewhere else, and generally the joy will come from getting angry about something. 

Some people just derive joy from getting angry so you know what, frankly because Bill made them a little mad, I’m sure they got some joy out of sniping. So cool, have fun. But there’s a level of happy that he reaches that I would hope that everybody who has never been at that level of joy gets to attain at some point. 

AM:  If you had a blueprint as to how things would go, did it meet what you thought it would be, or did it go beyond your wildest expectations?

JB: The blueprint for Bill Walton is there is no blueprint. I mean if you try and build any specific house on that lot it will be haunted. The doors will swing open and start to creak. The rattling of the China in the cabinet will begin at about one in the morning, when you know, no one is down there (laughs). That’s how it works. That’s the fun of it.

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Sports is supposed to be different every time you watch it, he is different every time you encounter him, except for one constant he has a gloriously kind heart. I want that. I want that in the person next to me, following the paces of the game with me, whatever that is. That’s a key component. 

AM: What about the two days following Bill Walton night? Any drop off over the weekend? Both guys displayed some great knowledge of the White Sox and baseball in general. 

JB: I’ll start with Sunday. Mike O’Brien is a big Sox fan. He’s a really really funny guy. He’s like obliquely funny. His bit about Jay-Z on SNL is so funny, where he’s just like a white guy, who’s generic and he’s posing as Jay-Z and it’s pretty funny. 

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Michael Schur is such a big baseball fan and such a creative genius. I mean he created Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 and the Good Place out of whole cloth. He just came up with these environments. The shows are so clever and so witty and so full of mirth, that I was thrilled to share a booth with him. I watched a little of it back and I laughed, quite hard, because by inning three he was just doing things that analysts typically do, like he’s watched so much baseball he was gliding from a story to an observation back to that story. I was like man, he is just such a smart dude, I cannot believe that was called a drop off.

Bill Walton is a high wire entertainer, Mike Schur is as creative of a human being as you’re possibly going to find in America right now, and Mike O’Brien is a really funny guy who evidently hates Betty White. Who knew?

AM: I enjoyed the Detwiler references when Mike Schur was with you. How did you discover that the White Sox pitcher’s name was in an episode of Parks and Rec

JB: So evidently, I found out via email, because I had emailed Mike Schur and I was like “hey Detwiler might pitch” (he ended up not pitching that day) so get your Missouri State anecdotes ready. He wrote me back saying, “well I actually named a place in Parks and Recs after Ross Detwiler.” So, my old college roommates and I scrambled to figure out where that was in the show, and one of them finally came up with it. My buddy David texted me and said “Season 4, Episode 21, The Bus Tour” and so I went back and watched it. Right at the beginning Leslie (one of the main characters in the show) is giving a stump speech and she says “I want to get rid of all the violent geese in Detwiler Square.”

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It’s the only mention of the place, I believe, in the series. Ross was so excited about it he and Mike ended up having like an 8-minute conversation in the clubhouse because Mike named a thing, a place after him.  

AM: Tell me about the experience as a whole, put it into perspective about how much fun you had and how successful it was? 

JB: It’s up to the audience (how successful it was), but I do want people to know that watching baseball through a different prism is a good thing. It’s always a good thing. Let different people comment on the game every once in a while. Let them be experts in observation, because that’s what we got, right?

We got some questions that the average fan never would ask because they’d be too afraid to ask because they’d be seen as dumb. But Bill Walton’s first question to James McCann (White Sox catcher) was “what’s that makeup you’re wearing under your eyes?”. Well it’s eye black. “How long does it take you to wipe it off?”. Well it’s pretty quick actually. If I’m a kid at home, I want to know that! I’m going to school and I’m like guess what I learned from crazy Bill Walton? 

NBC Sports Chicago put together a montage of some of Walton’s greatest lines from the game. I’ll share a few of them with you here. 

  • Walton to Jason Benetti, “I apologize to your family for ruining your career”
  • Yolmer Sanchez laid down a squeeze bunt to score Castillo, Walton exclaimed, “What offense! Brilliant,” Walton said. “This is a strategic victory.”
  • Mike Trout took Lucas Giolito deep, “That’s Trout? Swimming upstream, avoiding all the flies and sending one ricocheting through the universe.” 
  • Some of his comments were just a stream of words, “Woodstock. 50 years. ’79. Full moon. Waterfall. Exploding volcanoes. Baseball. White Sox. Angels. Summertime. No rain on the horizon. Greg Gumbel. Sam Smith. David Axelrod. Wow.”

It was a unique approach and seemed to be, with a few exceptions, received very well. It was a win for NBC Sports Chicago and a huge victory for Benetti, showing all who watched what tremendous talent he has. It couldn’t have been this good without him. 

Andy Masur
Andy Masurhttps://barrettmedia.com
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at [email protected].

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